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The Interplay Between Curriculum & Religious Topics

The Interplay Between Curriculum & Religious Topics

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The Interplay Between Curriculum & Religious Topics

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  1. The Interplay Between Curriculum & Religious Topics Presented by: Karla Schultz

  2. Busch v. Marple Newtown School District • What Happened: • An elementary school classroom project called “All About Me”, encouraged kindergarten students to teach the rest of the class about their interests and hobbies. • Parents were invited to come and participate by making a presentation in front of the class. • The mother of one of the students, five year old Wesley Busch, informed the teacher and principal of her desire to read from the Book of Psalms. • The elementary principal said no, telling the parent it would be inappropriate because of “separation of church and state” and the impressionable minds of the young students. • Mom sued and said her free speech rights had been violated.

  3. Busch v. Marple Newtown School District • The court said: • Can the speech be regulated? • YES! • Elementary school classrooms are not places for unlimited debate on public issues. • In a classroom, during school hours, and when curricular activities are being supervised by teachers, speech may be regulated. • Educators have a legitimate interest in preserving the educational goals of the classroom.

  4. Busch v. Marple Newtown School District • How can the speech be regulated and to what extent? • The younger the students, the more control a school may exercise. The age and impressionability of the students should always be considered. • However, any restrictions on student religious expression in the classroom must be reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns. • Can regulate student speech that is, or would appear to be, district-sponsored (e.g., student newspaper).

  5. Busch v. Marple Newtown School District • What if the school itself solicited the student speech? • The school may require that the solicited speech respond to the subject at hand, the assignment, or conform to the mode of presentation requested.

  6. Busch v. Marple Newtown School District • Readings from the Book of Psalms is a fairly benign and inspiring message, so it’s not really proselytizing, right? • The Court clearly stated: • “[A] reading from the Bible or other religious text is more than a message and unquestionably conveys a strong sense of spiritual and moral authority. In this case, the audience is involuntary and very young. Parents of public school kindergarten students may reasonably expect their children will not become captive audiences to an adult’s reading of religious texts.”

  7. Busch v. Marple Newtown School District • What about the Establishment Clause? • The court said that where the motivation behind the principal’s action was to ensure compliance with the Establishment Clause, that is a legitimate secular reason for limiting the speech. Busch v. Marple Newtown School District, 2009 WL 1508513 (3d. Cir. 2009).

  8. So what are the bottom line rules? • Any school district’s use of religious speech must: • Have a secular purpose. • Not have a primary effect of advancing or inhibiting religion. • Not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion. • Not persuade or compel others to participate in a religious exercise, or give the appearance of doing so. • Not endorse religion in public schools, or give the appearance of endorsement.

  9. Can teachers use Bible verses in their lessons? • Maybe. It depends. • If used at all, such religious quotes must be used for a valid curricular purpose. • They should be used only occasionally and in the context of many other non-religious quotes, unless the class is a religious studies class. • So, a math or PE teacher would not likely have a valid curricular reason for using religious quotes, but a language arts or social studies teacher might, if the verses are used sparingly and in the context of others, non-religious quotations.

  10. So what about that cheerleader banner with Biblical quotes? • Two kinds of religious expression in schools: student-initiated and school-sponsored. • School-sponsored is unconstitutional, but student-initiated can be acceptable under the proper circumstances. • At least one Texas court has said that cheerleader “speech” – made while serving as a cheerleader – is the district’s speech, not the student’s private speech. • The US Supreme Court has also said that student pre-game prayers at football, authorized by the government, on “government property” at a “government-sponsored, school-related” event, are not the student-initiated “private speech” that is constitutional.

  11. So what about that cheerleader banner with Biblical quotes? • Texas AG has weighed in: • “…the cheerleaders’ decision to display their banners cannot constitute promotion or imposition of religion by the school district. Rather, the banners are the religious speech of individual students, which enjoys protection under the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment.” • Stay tuned…